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Mainframe Days : How to teach your company about the platform it runs on


This blog has been posted on behalf of Phil Allison - an Enterprise Architect with a focus on System Z and Storage at Black Knight Inc. 
You can read more about Phil's background and activities as an IBM Champion for Z here.


Over the last few months, I have had the chance to start an internal learning series, called Mainframe Days, at Black Knight Inc. This is an internal learning and advocacy program that introduces employees within various areas of Black Knight to a number of underlying technologies within our mainframe platform.


Over the past few years, I've become very proud of the growing commitment Black Knight has made towards mainframe internships, apprenticeships and developing COBOL talent.  In contrast to when I started in IT, personnel were generally within a silo and never got to see other areas of mainframe support or see the actual hardware.  I want Mainframe Days to be an opportunity for mainframe support personnel to see the various supporting technologies and see what others contribute to the big picture. Black Knight has invested so much into the technology, that I additionally want the audience to appreciate the platform’s capabilities and recognize those which can benefit our customers.


In the first two segments I’ve received great support and feedback from those who work in client support, Mainframe Help Desk and members of our CISO organization.  I was especially pleased by the immediate support I received from my leadership to begin the series. The turnout for topics such as SystemZ and z15, IBM TS7770 VTS was excellent.  Excitement for upcoming topics on IBM DS8000, GDPS and Pervasive Encryption have been surprising in the best way possible.


I was most surprised at the number of early tenures who were excited about the cross-training aspect. When the meeting invite for an upcoming Mainframe Day is sent out, these employees are the first to accept and attend the meeting. It has been very encouraging to see that they get as geeked up as I do!  They especially liked the z15 virtual tour website.  This is a great substitute for physically being on the data center floor.  Aside from its current purpose, I hope we evolve portions of Mainframe Days as a training tool for all new mainframe employees.


On a personal note, this venue has been gratifying way to give back.  I have had so much support in my career over the past 30 plus years but today people are much busier and geographically dispersed.  It’s hard to make time to grow people and, at least until recently, conferences and education are harder to justify. I feel it’s important to work on this internal advocacy across all companies for a few reasons.

  • To gain Perspective: who better than those who architect and support the technologies?
  • To Build competency: what features do we employ vs what’s possible, if what’s possible has value, how can we get to what’s possible?
  • A channel for Mentorship: Develop a cadence and make learning more personal with those who want to learn and be mentored on the technologies chosen.
  • Reduced Cost: a lot can be covered over a broad audience


This is something I’d encourage others to try out within their own workplace. It is even something a newer member of the team could help to coordinate as they are learning most of these topics now anyway. I’d suggest a focus on developing internal programs which foster learning, have executive support, and offer additional learning opportunities.


Mainframe Days itself was heavily inspired by our own Black Knight University (BKU) and the Guru Program.  Often, these internal programs offer Lunch and Learn sessions once or twice a month on various topics such as Cloud, Agile, Using Excel, Automation, log aggregation, etc.  Gurus publish blogs on various topics and provide valuable Q&A for employees needing to speak with a subject matter expert.  Given the investment companies make with mainframe, there is always a desire to interface with mainframe applications, especially in new cloud-native ways.  Mainframe customers need to be informed, create some buzz and advocate these capabilities if they are relevant in helping the business succeed.


I challenge all of you (especially those new to the mainframe) to reach out to colleagues who aren’t on your team and learn about their role and what their area of specialty brings to the business.